What Does A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing Mean?

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing Meaning

Definition: A small amount of knowledge about a topic can make people falsely believe they are experts on that topic.

The idiom a little knowledge is a dangerous thing means that one can become falsely overconfident about his expertise in a certain subject if he possesses a small amount of knowledge about it. The idiom is a piece of caution to exercise humility, and it demonstrates that one should research a topic extensively before proclaiming oneself an expert on that topic.

Origin of A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

This phrase has a few variations, including,

  • A little learning is a dangerous thing.
  • A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.

No matter what variation is used, they carry the same meaning.

a little learning is a dangerous thingThe first use of this idiom appears in Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism, published in 1709:

  • A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

The idiom as it appears here was first used in 1774, in The Gentlemans and Lady’s Complete Magazine, Vol II:

  • Pope says, very truly, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

The latter example is a clear allusion to Pope’s earlier statement, although it was inaccurately quoted. Perhaps this explains why both idioms are used interchangeably.

Examples of A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

a little knowledge dangerousSince it is proverbial, this idiom is not commonly used in everyday speech. However, this example exchange between two colleagues illustrates how native speakers might use this phrase.

Amy: My son came home with a tattoo that his buddy gave him, and now it’s infected.

Sean: Just because someone has a tattoo gun doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Summary

The English idiom a little knowledge is a dangerous thing means that one who only knows a little bit about a subject might mistake oneself for an expert on it.